Back in 2009, the Florida Panthers knew they weren’t going to be able to re-sign Jay Bouwmeester. So instead of letting him walk away for nothing as an unrestricted free agent, they traded his rights to Calgary.
At the time, Bouwmeester was considered one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. The Flames immediately signed him to a five-year, $33 million contract.
For Panthers fans, Bouwmeester’s departure was just one of many departures they’ve been forced to accept over the years. Roberto Luongo. Olli Jokinen. Nathan Horton. Jason Garrison. Whether they simply wanted out or there wasn’t enough money to keep them, it didn’t matter, key players kept leaving.
To say the least, it was not a winning formula.
“In the past this organization has drafted players and developed them and then off they’ve gone,” GM Dale Tallon said today after the Panthers announced that 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov had signed a six-year contract extension worth a reported $35.4 million.
“It’s just a cycle that wasn’t very effective. The commitment from [owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] is to build a winning team and win the Stanley Cup is our goal. You can’t do that unless you lock up your core guys for a long time and make a commitment to them so that our fans know that we’re committed as well.”
Added Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko: “To be committed, you have to sign players and sign people. It’s not just the players. It’s Nick Bjugstad’s long-term contract, Barky’s long-term contract, but it’s also extending Dale Tallon, and bringing Tommy Rowe in here to support the organization, extending Gerard Gallant’s contract.”
Luukko could’ve included his own name there. He was a pretty significant hire himself.
Granted, the Panthers still haven’t won a playoff series since 1996. Much work remains, both on the ice and off.
But with all the young talent they’ve assembled through the draft; and with committed owners; and with a new deal with Broward County; and with the collapse of the Canadian dollar, which isn’t such a bad thing for lower-revenue American teams like Florida, things are definitely looking up for this franchise.
“I just think this is a good spot for me,” said Barkov. “The team is going in the right direction, and I love it here.”